Similarly to other Belgian towns, Ghent has been affec- ted by the shift in the retail industry. From the 1960s onward, the consolidation of the common market, the rise of household purchasing power, the democratization of car mobility and the advance made in logistics led to the emergence of new shopping facilities that radically changed the commercial geography of the city. Historians have often reduced this evolution to the adoption of American ‘consumption culture’ and the emergence of large shopping complexes along motorways, but actually the emergence of new consumption habits resulted in a very diverse landscape of retail facilities. In Belgium, the shopping center ‘à l’americaine’ only encountered a limited success. The mid-size Belgian agglomerations did not match with the regional catchment area needed for large shopping malls. Instead the models that first have made a breakthrough are the supermarkets and hypermarkets. The financial success of these retail experiments led to a rapid spread all over the country.
In 1972, the province of Ghent counted 3 hypermarkets, 10 discount stores and more than 70 supermarkets. This diversity of retail typologies also gave rise to a very diverse localization pattern; along the city ring road, along regional roads or on the square of sub-urban municipalities. However, despite these nuances, all these facilities settled outside the city center, where cheap and accessible land could accommodate the vast amount of square meters required for parking and retail boxes.
Nowadays, the spatial context in which these facilities first developed has drastically changed. Many of the suburban locations have further urbanized and are now becoming part of the agglomeration. Ghent continues to grow and accommodates every year hundreds of new inhabitants. By 2050, Ghent is expected to house 100.000 additional inhabitants. Such dynamic places these large space consumers in a different land position than the one they held fifty years ago. Yet many retailers keep reproducing the same typology they use to erect in a peri-urban landscape.
The summer school proposes to explore different scenarios in order to revisit the relationship between these facilities, the plot of land they sit on and their surrounding context. How can architectural interventions provide these buildings with a new meaning, one that embraces its inevitable urban future? How can we transform these spaces in order to host a more diverse set of uses? Can we imagine a model that no longer only consumes land but rather contributes to the production of a piece of city?